Raised in multi-cultural Singapore and a musical family, Rit Xu is an award winning jazz flutist, composer, educator and bandleader, who has gained international recognition for his lyrical, thoughtful and introspective musical voice on the flute.
As an alumni of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art’s School of Young Talents, and subsequently, a recent graduate in classical flute performance from Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (NUS), Rit has been involved in many diverse projects abroad.
From debuting in 2015 with the Swiss Youth World Music Ensemble, and he went on to win a spot in the prestigious 26-piece Asian Youth Jazz Orchestra led by great Japanese trombonist and conductor, Osamu Matsumoto. He also played all flute solos in the soundtrack of Taiwanese epic movie, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, which won the 48th Golden Horse Award for best original film score.
Back home, Rit is a key member of Jeremy Monteiro’s Jazz Brasileiro, the Greg Lyons Quintet and his 10-piece modern jazz outlet Omniform, the Lorong Boys, amongst many others.
Rit plays on Powell and Weissenberg flutes.
The Band Post speaks to Rit as a jazz musician, on his personal life, career advices and opinions about the Singapore jazz scene.
This article is part 1 of Rit’s interview. Click here for part 2.
Having majored in classical flute performance, what made you choose jazz flute instead?
I guess it is purely a personal aesthetics choice. Jazz—its language, idiom, structure and freedom—provided me with a solid vehicle to express my musical identity through improvisation. That being said, it is the classical foundation that gave me mastery of my instrument, which allows me to perform written and/or improvised music at a high level.
Would you say that your family background has a great influence on your decision to step into a music career? What path would you have chosen if not for a musician?
Yes, without a doubt! The thought of choosing another career has never occurred to me.
My late-father was also a professional musician: he gave me a head start by exposing me to all types of Western-based music. My mother is an amateur but really serious Cantonese opera singer—she still goes for classes three times a week—so traditional music is no stranger to me too. Because of my early exposure and eclectic musical background, I developed quite an elevated sense of musical empathy and appreciation from a young age.
Granted, my artistic voice is still very much rooted in the ethos of jazz—but the discerning listener may notice subtle influences as a result of my musical empathy and growing up in multicultural Singapore.
If you could name some people who have inspired you in your career, who would they be?
My late-father is my biggest inspiration. As a professional pianist and musician himself, he instilled in me at a young age, the values which he held so dearly in his work—diligence, industry, punctuality, and a never-ending quest for constant improvement in the craft.
As a child, I remembered how my father constantly threw me into spontaneous performing situations whenever a family gathering or social occasion arose; boy, did I resent it! I did not realize how those occasions would shape me musically today. My father laid the groundwork for me to improvise, listen, and play with anyone. I am immensely thankful to my father for exposing me to music and improvisation from a very young age.
When I was studying in the conservatory, my flute teacher Mr Jin Ta taught me a great deal about playing the flute; his gorgeous sound on the instrument continues to inspire me every day.
In the past seven years, I have also been very fortunate to have been mentored by some of Singapore’s most prominent and revered veteran musicians: the late-Maestro Iskandar Ismail, award-winning composer Mr Ricky Ho and international jazz stalwart Prof. Jeremy Monteiro. They have been instrumental in putting me on international platforms, and I count my blessings each day that I am able to work with my musical heroes from home.
Apart from performance, you write and record your own music too. What do you hope to bring to your listeners through your music?
My music is a mixture of contemporary sounds inspired by a lifelong pursuit and study of music from my heritage and around the globe, with the ethos of jazz as the binding thread. I want my love for improvisation and a keen focus on melody, groove, propulsion and group dynamics to take centre stage and re-define what the flute can achieve in a contemporary music setting.
A contributing editor at TBP.